Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Awakening from History: Iraq, the Dangerous Diversion
CURRENT AFFAIRSIn James Joyce's classic "Ulysses," Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's alter ego, complains, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." Right now, America is only beginning to awaken from the nightmare of our misadventure in Iraq.
At the start of the Second World War, after the sudden German Blitzkrieg attack on Poland and the consequent declaration of war by France and England, nothing happened. During the period between September 1939 and April 1940 all was indeed quiet on the western front. Yet the British and French failed to profit from studying the surprisingly innovative tactics exhibited by the German forces in Eastern Europe, and the close cooperation between Nazi ground and air elements.
British planes dropped harmless leaflets on German cities. Along the German border with France a few shots were exchanged. British newspapers called it the "Sitzkrieg." Secure behind their supposedly impregnable Maginot Line and unaware of the carnage that was about to descend on them, the French referred to the inactivity as "la drôle de guerre "--"the phony war."
Another Phony War
We, too, have been engaged in a phony war. Not phony because of inactivity. Phony because we have been fighting the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place against the wrong enemy. And we're doing it with the wrong strategy and for the wrong reasons. For those brave and uncomplaining soldiers fighting, making do, and dying in Iraq, it's a real enough war.
It has been dubbed "a war on terror" but never was formally declared. With its skimpy allocation of troops and the puzzling strategy we are employing, it has as much chance of being successful as our ongoing war on drugs. In many respects, it is proportionally a more deadly war than the war we fought in Vietnam. It took a long time for the simple truth to dawn on us that we cannot fight and control an insurgency with a field army intended for a war on the plains of Central Europe. Our preemptive attack on Iraq had a result that could have been easily predicted by anyone familiar with that troubled country's bloody history of fierce resistance to occupation.
Had planners consulted a book titled "The Insurrection in Mesopotamia, 1920," by Lt. Gen. Sir Aylmer L. Haldane, published in England in 1922, they would have found sage advice. General Haldane was the general officer commanding in Iraq--then called Mesopotamia--who overcame guerrilla resistance to British occupation of the country. Place names of hot spots of resistance then are identical with those in today's headlines: Mosul, Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra, Karbala, Tikrit. Haldane's solution in 1920 was to employ armored cars to keep supply lines open. We only got around to armoring all our military vehicles in Iraq after suffering heavy losses in unarmored vehicles.
Gertrude Bell, who might be called "the godmother of modern Iraq," later confessed that the British attempt to establish representative government in Iraq through elections was a mistake. "The stronger the hold we are able to keep here the better the inhabitants will be pleased," she wrote. "They can't conceive an inependent Arab government. Nor, I confess, can I. There is no one here who could run it." For our part, we have encouraged elections in Iraq and the establishment of a government even though we still do not control the heart of the country in which half the Iraqi population lives.
Iraqis may be the least likely candidates for success at self-government in the Middle East. In the 37 years during which Iraq was a kingdom, the country had 57 prime ministers. Participatory government--and any hope of democracy--became moot after the young king's murder by Army officers in 1958, when rule passed to the hands of the Army and then Saddam Hussein.
The Wrong Planning
It has been said that this nation always fights the next war with the equipment and plans of the last war. If that were true of the war are fighting in Iraq, there would be no criticism. The war in Vietnam was a guerrilla war waged by a tenacious enemy. Yet in Iraq, our initial tactics and equipment seemed to be modeled on World War II.
The paradox is that we still do not even control the highway between Baghdad and its airport. In a guerrilla war, there is no front--or rather the front is everywhere. The Pentagon's failure to initially provide an adequate number of armored vehicles to troops in Iraq borders on the criminal.
It was foolish for American planners to base their occupation plans on our experience in Germany and Japan after the Second World War. These were two disciplined societies accustomed to living under rigorous regimentation. After a dozen years of sanctions, and despite the iron hand of Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, Iraq had become a corrupt, opportunistic society of fast-buck operators. Anything and everything was for sale, and the fabric of society had already broken down well before we got there.
Civilians vs. Military
Does the name Eric Shinseki ring a bell? It should. A 1965 graduate of West Point, General Shinseki was injured twice in Vietnam. (He lost a foot the second time and received two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Star decorations.) After serving ten years in Europe, he was promoted to General, named vice chief of staff of the Army in 1998 and served as chief of staff until he retired in 2003.
When he took over as Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld envisioned a different plan of future military action. Preferring defensive weapons against attacks from space and offensive weapons for attacks from the air, his plan did not involve the Army much. Shinseki wanted a new kind of army, one combining the adaptability of light infantry with the power of mechanized heavily armored forces. In May of 2002, although $2 billion had already been spent on it, Donald Rumsfeld canceled the unfortunately-named Crusader heavy artillery project, a self-propelled howitzer designed to fire up to ten 155mm shells per minute as far as 25 miles. (He didn't mind the name; he objected to its size and cost.) Later, General Shinseki would tell a Congressional committee the Crusader weapon system could have saved American lives during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
The unprecedented naming by Mr. Rumsfeld of General Shinseki's successor as Chief of Staff 18 months before his term expired turned him into a lame duck and stripped him of clout. Relations between the general and the defense secretary were never warm--and they became worse in 2003 when General Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that occupying and stabilizing Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops."
General Shinseki's numbers were pooh-poohed as too high by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Rumsfeld publicly repudiated him, saying he was "wildly off the mark." The Army invaded Iraq with about 100,000 soldiers. Recent events--the extended and repeated tours duty for our stretched-thin forces, and the continuing casualty figures--have shown how right Gen. Shinseki was.
Interestingly, a RAND Corporation study of occupation forces based on the British experience in Northern Ireland found that the ideal ratio was one soldier for each 20 inhabitants. According to that formula, to control Iraq properly, with its fractious population of about 25 million, would require 500,000 occupying troops.
The Wrong Enemy
For Iraq, Saddam Hussein was as bad as it could get. But he posed no immediate threat to the United States. Yet with monumental illogic, we waged a preemptive war against Iraq. Some experts have suggested that attacking Iraq because of 9/11 made as much sense as a declaration 0f war against Mexico would have made following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The simple truth is that 9/11 should have been treated as what it was--a crime with international ramifications--and the assistance of the countries of the world should have been enlisted in the hunt for the criminals. Our primary adversary should always have been Osama bin Laden, yet he was allowed to escape from our clutches. Now he seems to thrive and issue threatening pronouncements via taped messages from the safety of the tribal area of northwest Pakistan.
Ironically, bin Laden is a creation of the United States, although the U.S. government, probably out of embarrassment, has been singularly quiet about its participation in the recruitment and arming of fighters who forced the Russians in 1989 to abandon their occupation of Afghanistan. After Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), operating at arm's length, organized an Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the godless Russians, with the cooperation of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorateof Pakistan. The CIA provided weapons and recruited candidates from various Muslim countries and facilitated their travel to Pakistan for training.
Arab countries were the main source of fighters, who were jocularly called "Afghan Arabs." Non-Afghan recruits came from Algeria, Indonesia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Sudan. The Pakistani embassy in Algiers issued 2,800 visas to Algerian volunteers in the 1980s. Fighters from all countries trained at Peshawar in Pakistan and received the comparatively high salary of $1,500 a month.
The CIA had hoped to turn up a Saudi prince to lead this jihad but could not find one. It settled for Osama bin Laden, recruited in 1980--with CIA approval--by the head of Saudi intelligence. Osama bin Laden shuttled frequently between Saudi Arabia and Peshawar in Pakistan with Saudi donations for the jihad. By 1986, bin Laden, whose family had made millions in construction, was the major contractor on a large CIA-funded project, the Khost tunnel complex deep in the mountains near the border with Pakistan.
Not many years later, with the Russians gone, bin Laden turned on his erstwhile American employers. In Operation Anaconda, U.S. planes would bomb this same tunnel complex. With peculiar timidity, although American Special Forces troops were at hand, to spare American casualties U.S. commanders would choose to use Northern Alliance fighters of doubtful allegiance to root out Taliban die-hards in 2002 with an almost predicrables lack of the desired result.
Michael Scheuer, author of two books on Osama bin Laden and al Quaida under the pen name "Anonymous," spent many of his years of service as a CIA analyst studying bin Laden. Scheuer's advice in his 2004 book "Imperial Hubris" was not to see bin Laden as a criminal terrorist or as a lunatic, but rather as a talented, clever and brilliant military and political genius, with the attributes of a successful CEO. Scheuer warned that bin Laden has been precise in telling us the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, as George W. Bush insists. They have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world. Scheuer confidently predicted another massive bin Laden attack on the United States. In bin Laden's words, "just as you lay waste to our nation, so shall we lay waste to yours."
Osama bin Laden's long-term strategy is one developed by Gandhi and refined by radical Chicago labor and civil rights organizer Saul Alinsky. It is embodied in the phrase, "The action is the reaction." In his 1971 book "Rules for Radicals," Alinsky wrote, "The real action is in the enemy's reaction. The enemy, properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength. Tactics, like life, require that you move with the action."
The bin Laden action was the bombing of American symbols: the twin WTC towers (wealth), the Pentagon (the military), and (probably) the White House or the Capitol Building (the government). The American reaction exceeded his wildest dreams. We attacked the hated secularist Saddam's Iraq, laid waste to it and removed him from power. Now we are engaged in trying to rebuild it. In bin Laden's words, "The policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy various corporations-- whether in the field of arms or reconstruction--has helped us to achieve our results." What is remarkable about bin Laden as an adversary is that he has so clearly spelled out his intentions and objectives in his many taped messages to the West--an Arab version of "Valdez Is Coming."
For an investment of about a half million dollars, bin Laden succeeded in goading us into attacking a Muslim country and committing us to spending billions of dollars. He has acknowledged that his policy is to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy--and we are foolishly cooperating with him in this. He knows that the soft underbelly of the West is oil, and oil will never get cheaper. Yet we continue to do nothing about reducing our dependence on hydrocarbon fuels.
Despite a record-shattering reward of $50 million offered for his capture, Osama bin Laden still remains at large, a potent threat to the United States and the West. Are most intelligence professionals worried about the possibility of another major incident masterminded by this formidable adversary? Yes, they are very worried--and you should be too.
The "C" Word Surfaces
Five days after the devastating attack of September 11, President George W. Bush alighted from his Marine Corps helicopter on the White House lawn and spoke extemporaneously at a press conference. In response to a question about homeland security efforts infringing on civil rights, he remarked ambitiously that his administration would "rid the world of evildoers," describing the new American purpose as, "this crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."
Foreign leaders, more sensitive perhaps to problems within their own borders, condemned the unfortunate choice of words. The French foreign minister said, "We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs." Two days after invoking the "C" word, the White House back-pedaled. "President Bush regrets using the word 'crusade,' with all its connotation of religious warfare, to describe his campaign against terrorism," Ari Fleischer, his press secretary, told reporters.
But the damage had been done. Spoken by almost anyone else, the President's statement might have been seen as merely a few ill-chosen words. But coming from an evangelical Christian--in the light of the war that followed--the statement confirmed Muslims' worst suspicions and was taken as tantamount to a declaration of war against Islam. Six months later, President Bush showed that he had learned nothing from the first gaffe. On Feb. 16, 2002, he uttered the taboo word again. In a speech in Alaska, he referred to the war on terror as a crusade, paying tribute to the Canadian armed forces who "stand with us in this incredibly important crusade to defend freedom."
Throughout the Islamic world, "crusade" is a loaded term that evokes the successive Christian medieval wars against Muslims in the Holy Land. It is interesting to note that Iraqi insurgents have adopted a code name for American troops. To them, we are "crusaders." Witness the message left by the suicide bomber who blew himself up in the giant American mess tent near Mosul on December 21. In a tape made by him before the incident, he said that he intended to "take advantage of lunch time when the dining hall is crowded with the crusaders and their (Iraqi) allies." The word crusader has become a universal derisory appelation throughout the Muslaim world for American and British occupation forces in Iraq.
Between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries, Christian Europe and Islam went from being occasional adversaries to avowed and intractable opponents. The depressing reverberations of this extreme attitudinal change still persist in the world today. There were eight crusades that poured out of Europe, successive rivers of humanity snaking their way to the Middle East, practicing "sanctified violence" against Muslims by raping and pillaging and living off the land. Is it any wonder that the words "crusade" and "crusader" stir bitter folk memories?
Who Incited the Crusades?
If blame can be laid at anyone's doorstep for the enmity generated by the successive waves of crusaders that penetrated the Middle East, it would have to be Pope Urban II. He applied a torch to the powder at the Council of Clermont in 1095. A member of the noble de Lagery family, Urban II was born around 1035 in the Champagne district of France. Baptized Odo (or Otto), upon ascending to the papacy in 1085, he followed papal tradition and became Urban II. His choice of the clergy indicates that he was probably a younger son. The eldest son in each noble family was destined for a knightly future.
Ten years after having been chosen pope, Urban II delivered an impassioned sermon in the French city of Clermont alleging that Christians were being oppressed and abused by their savage Muslim conquerors. He enumerated their misdeeds: enforced circumcision of Christian men; pouring the blood from these "foul practices" on altars or in baptismal fonts; "the appalling violation of women, of which it is more evil to speak than to keep silent."
A call for Christians to set out for the Holy Land to free Christian holy places from the grip of the Muslims. his sermon evoked spontaneous cries of "God wills it!" It was to become the rallying cry of the Crusades. The pope's motives for calling for a crusade were several: The Catholic clergy was rife with abuse; the pope was essentially powerless to change a warring and sinful society. Urban II also saw the Crusades as an opportunity to increase the power of the papacy by reestablishing friendly relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, broken in 1054 by a bitter argument over liturgical practice.
Alexius Commenus, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, had asked Pope Urban II for aid from the West against the Seljuk Turks who had taken nearly all of Asia Minor from him. He hoped his appeal would yield a few thousand mercenaries for his depleted armies. He neither expected nor wanted to be overwhelmed by an independent and unruly force of 100,000 men, women and children that trekked through his domain.
In the Crusades, other targets were Jews. In their passage through Germany and central Europe, CVrusaders extracted money from the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne in return for promises of protection that were then not honored. After Jerusalem fell in 1099 in the first crusade, the Muslim and Jewish communities were both slaughtered.
Instead of embracing Eastern Christian sects, the new patriarch of Jerusalem expelled them from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Eastern Christians soon discovered that they had been better treated under Muslim rule than they were in a "liberated" Jerusalem. Eastern Christianity, based in Constantinople, and Islam had actually coexisted for four centuries. Their relationship, although tense, was no more contentious than that between Byzantium and the Slavic or Latin countries to the west. The Crusaders' ultimate goal, the holy city of Jerusalem, remained in Muslim hands, but this had been the case for more than four centuries. In the Iberian Peninsula, overwhelmed by Islamic forces in the year 711, culture, learning and trade flourished, and Spain became one of the most civilized centers of the known world.
It is true that from its earliest days, the Muslim religion had embraced warfare. Muhammad himself had waged a series of bitter campaigns while subjugating Mecca, but the picture of Muslims as brutal oppressors painted by Urban II was pure fiction. By the eleventh century, Muslims were more likely to be waging war against fellow Muslims--Sunni vs. Shiia, a contest that continues to this day--than they were to be oppressing Christians. In fact, the papal picture of Muslims as brutal oppressors was a tissue of lies. For over four centuries Islam had proved to be considerably more tolerant of other religions than was Christianity. Christians under Islam were usually treated with remarkable compassion and tolerance. The Muslim faith acknowledged and respected Judaism and Christianity as creeds with which it had a common devotional tradition and a mutual basis in authoritative scripture.
Unless we familiarize ourselves with the real issues at stake in our so-called "war on terror" and the West's history of exploitation of the Islamic world, we shall not be able to make intelligent decisions. America will pay an intolerably steep price if Islam replaces communism as the next "Satanic foe."
A Dangerous Diversion
The war in Iraq and subsequent occupation of that unhappy and restive country have been a dangerous diversion from our hunt for bin Laden and the war on al-Quaida. Our Iraq folly has inflamed Islamic extremists, inspiring retaliatory terrorism everywhere. American resources--military manpower and equipment, intelligence services and money--should have been devoted to capturing bin Laden and crushing the al-Quaida infrastructure, tracking down its members and protecting the American homeland from assault.
Once it was demonstrated that Iraq was a paper tiger that possessed no weapons of mass destruction, to save face the administration conceived the unctuous lie that our objective all along was to bring democracy to Iraq. We seem to have the impression that democracy is like some all-purpose detergent cleanser that will eradicate the longstanding ethnic and religious rivalries of Iraq and other troubled countries of the Middle East.
How Did the Iraq War Happen?
With an ongoing war costing American taxpayers billions of dollars every month and no end in sight, the question of how we got stuck with the Iraq tar baby is paramount. How did a small band of unelected neocons, who managed to avoid service in the military (we used to call them "draft dodgers"), convince a president not known to be a great reader of history, nor one given to introspection, that an attack on Iraq was an appropriate action? How did they mislead Congress, browbeat the press and intimidate senior professional military officers into accepting their sketchy war plans without question? How was the American public conned into believing their lies? How could the neocons have been so wrong in their predictions that Iraq's oil would finance the war and subsequent occupation or that our troops would be welcomed with open arms and garlands of flowers?
The Iraqi population had already been ground down by years of sanctions enforced by the United States and Britain and attended by shortages of food, medicine and other necessities. Under the circumstances, they could hardly be expected to exhibit friendly feelings toward us. Even more pressing now are the twin questions of how and when can we get out of Iraq and be free of this tar baby. Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who commanded the invasion of Iraq, told the NBC news program "Today," "I think we will be engaged with our military in Iraq for, perhaps, three, five, ten years." That chuckle you are hearing is surely coming from bin Laden reposing somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan.
One Solution: Return to the Constitution
The way to prevent such situations from occurring in the future may be to adhere to the Constitution in initiating wars. In the last half-century, we have masked them as "police actions" that a supine Congress gives the President the power to pursue. Without adequate public debate on issues, such votes have been little more than rubber stamping of each President's aggressive actions.
Yet Section 8 of Article One of the Constitution, covering the powers of Congress, says, "The Congress shall have Power to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." Never mind the quaint capitalization characteristic of the period. The intent of the Constitution's framers is quite clear.
For the record, the last time the U.S. Congress declared war was almost 65 years ago--on December 8, 1941, after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, which also happened to be a preemptive attack. This was followed four days later by the declaration by the Congress that a state of war existed between the United States and Germany and Italy--after these two nations declared war on the United States. Sixty-five years! That's simply too long a time for constitutional government to have been circumvented.